Council considers request to return war medals in museum collection to family

A request for the return of six medals from two World Wars donated to Mid Antrim Museum was considered at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim’s Borough Growth Committee.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 12:40 pm

The medals were donated in 2001 and have been in the ownership of the council’s museums collection since.

Councillors heard that the family has “agreed a potential loan agreement with the council for the items to remain on display as part of the NI100 ‘Looking Back to Look Forward’ museum exhibition”.

A report to the committee indicated that this would mean that the medals would remain on loan to the council and would be on display until February 2022.

After this time, they would be returned to the family who have indicated that they are willing to loan the items to the museum for short periods for temporary display thereafter.

The report to the committee also noted that once objects are signed over to the council, they are not intended for return.

However, the report says that when queries arise, these are “considered on a case by case basis”.

The donor of the medals is now deceased. The medals belonged to his father. A request for the return of items was made to the council in June by a relative who said that they are “considered to be an important part of their family history”.

The collection includes a Dunkirk Medal (1940) awarded in recognition of service at the Dunkirk Landing, the Star Medal (1939-1945) awarded to soldiers who fought in Dunkirk, the British War Medal (1914-1918)  and Victory Medal awarded to soliders who fought in World War 1.

It is the only set in the museum which documents a war record for the same person in both World Wars.

Committee member Carrickfergus DUP councillor Alderman Billy Ashe  described the  issue as a “very emotive subject”.

“I think we need to be very careful what we do here. We could end up creating a precedent. We could end up with a museum here and nothing in it if everybody starts asking for things back that their relatives have donated.

“I say that with the best of intentions probably at what is a very sad time for a family. I do not wish to inflict any more difficulty on them at a very difficult time.

“It would have made a big difference if it had been the person who had made the donation. If not, I think we need to be very careful.”

Mid and East Antrim Mayor Cllr William McCaughey suggested that it is the council’s responsibilty to display the medals in a museum as originally requested.

Knockagh DUP Cllr Peter Johnston noted that the medals were donated and not loaned.

Cllr Johnston asked about the council’s policy on the issue.

“As a council, we hold many artefacts that have been donated,” he stated.

Council officer Ross Hickey told the meeting: “The policy does state that the council is not under any obligation to return items now under ownership of council.”

However, he indicated that they are returned “in exceptional circumstances” but added that it would “not be usual” amd would be assessed “on a case by case basis”.

“That discretion would allow us to return items but we are certainly not obliged to do so.”

The Mayor asked if there are any “extenuating or special circumstances” that the family has put forward.

The officer indicated that the medals are of “significant sentimental value to the family who consider them to be important to family heritage.”

Ald Ashe commented: “Remember everybody, these medals are not ours to give back. We are custodians on behalf of the ratepayer.

“I do have sympathy with the family. Is it possible we could hold on to them and loan them them at different times.”

Committee Chair Larne Lough Councillor Gregg McKeen asked if the officer could make inquiries for further discussion at a future meeting.

The officer said that this was something that could be explored.

by Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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